Peter Morici

Thursday, the Labor Department is expected to report the economy added 211,000 jobs in May. In line with the pace so far this year, that is far short of what is needed to keep up with population growth and genuinely reduce unemployment.

The jobless rate is down to 6.3 percent from the recession peak of 10, but most of the reduction has been accomplished by adults quitting the labor market—neither working nor looking for work. If the same percentage of adults were in the labor force today as when Presidents Obama or Bush took office, the jobless rate would be 10.4 and 12.4 percent, respectively.

Three problems have limited jobs creation during both Bush and Obama years—slow economic growth overall, a disinclination to control the border with Latin America or disappoint businesses’ appetite for cheaper skilled labor from Asia, and the work disincentives imposed by social programs intended to redress income inequality and help the disadvantaged.

In this century, GDP growth has averaged 1.7 per year, whereas during the Reagan – Clinton period it was 3.4 percent. The reluctance of both Presidents Bush and Obama to confront Chinese protectionism and currency manipulation and open up offshore oil for development have created a huge trade deficit, which sends consumer demand and jobs abroad.

Efforts to bring jobs back to America are often frustrated by government regulations that are more burdensome than necessary to accomplish their legitimate objectives, and skilled labor shortages. Paradoxically in an economy with 9.8 million unemployed and actively looking for work, too many lack skills appropriate to the 21st Century economy, and seem to lack adequate incentives to acquire those.

The combination of free and subsidized health care, the earned income tax credit, and other government programs whose benefits phase out as incomes rise, imposes high effective marginal tax rates on lower income working families. These often encourage prime working age adults to forgo full time employment or not work at all.

Many have simply made little effort or lacked the opportunity to acquire skills in demand. Efforts at improving primary and secondary education and access to college have too much focused on basic skills and granting degrees without much concern for the course of study selected. Those efforts have simply not adequately emphasized creating skill-ready graduates for a rapidly changing economy.

Immigrants—legal and illegal combined—are all too eager to fill the void and have captured all 5.6 million jobs created since 2000.

Peter Morici

Professor Peter Morici is a recognized expert on economic policy and international economics. He has lectured and offered executive programs at more than 100 institutions including Columbia University, the Harvard Business School and Oxford University.